DISCLAIMER: The views presented in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of UP Medics nor the entire UPCM student body.
For the UP College of Medicine, the past two election seasons have been nothing short of dismal in both the fielding of candidates and the participation of the student body.
This trend of indifference first surfaced last year, when the two main political parties of the College, BIGKIS and TUGON Medisina, were not able to field a complete list of candidates for the six available positions of the Medicine Student Council. Even with the addition of independent candidate Ronneil Bilbao (Class 2021), who was running for Secretary-General, the position of Finance Officer remained vacant up until election day.
The voting results were lackluster as well, with abstention garnering about 1 in every 4 votes cast for a position, except that of the Chairperson with 1 in every 6. Furthermore, the overall turnout was a paltry 52%, skirting a failure of elections. Besides the usual scheduling and availability issues of clerks and interns, these statistics seemed to have reflected a declining interest of the studentry, either in the perennial rehash of campaign promises or in the democratic process they are compelled to participate.
With the release of the official list of candidates by the College Electoral Board (CEB) last May 3, the Editorial Board was distressed by the fact that only 3 out of the 6 positions, namely Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, and Public Relations Officer, had each only one candidate, and all from the same party of TATAK Medisina. According to the revised MSC Constitution, positions that remain vacant after elections can be filled in by appointment of the Chairperson. This grossly undermines the spirit of democracy, leaving the students disempowered and without a choice, not that there was one to begin with.
During the MSC/USC Miting De Avance held last Monday, May 7, the CEB announced that because of the unprecedented lack of candidates running for office, they will hold a second nomination and election period after voting on Friday. Whether individuals of the student body respond to this call by filing for candidacy remains to be seen.
In an institution whose educational environment encourages independence, social participation, and self-determination, the current political milieu of the College is truly an anomaly. One would think a typical UP student invests in extra-curricular activities with much voracity. These activities come in the form of organizational, religious, social, and of course, political work. Yet as a member of the College, the overarching body that concerns governance, representation, welfare, and rights of all students is the MSC. Thus, is it not the responsibility of each student to extend their support to the Council, whether by volunteering in MSC-led College activities, applying for a position in the many committees of the council, or simply exercising their right to vote at the upcoming elections?
Ironically, it is perhaps the strong organizational culture of UP that has contributed to the decline in interest in the MSC, especially for the College of Medicine that boasts a multi-talented but small student populace. With 16 accredited OFS and just over 800 students, including clerks and interns, who do not usually participate in extracurriculars anymore, there is much burden on the cohort of students who are active in their respective organizations to manage day-to-day affairs and implement plans and projects. This spread-thin loyalty, coupled with the heavy academic demands of medical school, leaves more to be desired in aiding the Student Council in their activities that would supposedly benefit a greater cause – the entire studentry.
It seems that organizational activities are more enticing to invest time and effort in because they may cater to the special interest of the student, receive immediate approval by peers and higher-ups, or produce palpable results that advance the organization’s reputation. The social and cultural work that these organizations do undoubtedly benefit the UPCM-PGH community and beyond, but it is at the expense of neglecting the in-house student council that could possibly pull the entire College as its resource and surpass in reach and impact what any one organization can do.
The presence of a multitude of sizable and established organizations promotes exclusion and divisiveness among students. In the end, the MSC, whose activities are largely external and representative of the College (e.g. FOP, MGMR, Bakbakan, Palarong Med, Board-Ops, etc.), become paralyzed and often pale in comparison to comparable medical schools, such as ASMPH and St. Luke’s, whose administration and students across all year levels actively participate in and support council-led school-wide and inter-medical school events.
Now more than ever
With the dwindling support of the student body for the MSC, the Editorial Board asks: Do students of the College consider the Council to be relevant anymore? Do students even consider the need for true representation by the Council given that they are already successful in their respective organizations
The MSC is not without fault in contributing to this lack of participation. Past councils have not been efficient in implementing planned projects, maintaining financially viable, nor wholly transparent in major internal matters, such as the chronic inactivity of key members. Moreover, students have felt that the Council has not been effective in producing results that would better the educational experience and environment of the College. Even the recent passing of the Magna Carta for Students, which is in itself a major triumph for the Council and the College, only set out ideals and standards for students rights, yet concrete change remains to be seen. These factors have portrayed the Council as a squandered, fruitless endeavor.
Despite this portrayal, the MSC has been relentlessly working for the student body in more ways than what meets the eye. “It is often a thankless job,” they say, having denied themselves of time that the average medical student would rather spend for himself or herself.
They played a critical role in protecting the freedom of the students with regards to the Social Media Policy. They made sure scholarship grants would be properly given to the recipients. They defended appeals of the students to the RSOP committee. They facilitated the giving of awards to students during the student convocation and during the commencement exercises. They maintain open feedback and communication with the administration on curriculum changes and reforms. In other words, more than the external projects by the MSC, there are numerous internal proceedings that are done for the interests of the student body.
More importantly, they struggled for the assurance of free education for the students. They took on the challenge on insisting the administration that the tuition fee should be 100% subsidized and that it should be fully subsidized especially for the LU1 to LU4 students. They even contacted CHED officers and Congressmen every day in order to settle matters.
The UP Medical Student Council exists because power should not be limited to the upper echelon – the administration as well as the government. It is a necessary partner that helps the UPCM student fulfill the Mission-Vision of the college. Each student has the capacity to be involved with matters concerning themselves and the society.
Therefore, this vicious cycle of ineffective leadership arising from lack of support from the student body and vice versa must be broken. If we stop caring for the MSC, then that is a fertile ground for the dissolution of our empowerment as students. Eventually, anyone outside the student body can give no regard for student’s rights, student’s welfare, student’s voices and grievances.
Recently the students have been slowly suffocating from the long-standing problems of the College, such as aging infrastructure, lack of study and communal spaces, inadequacy of research funding, tuition collection and emerging mental health issues. Now more than ever, the MSC remains one of the College’s most relevant and integral institutions, and is the only entity that is bestowed with the privilege and responsibility of initiating and demanding change for the benefit of all its constituents.
It is easy to take comfort in the achievements we have created for our organizations, but to claim ourselves members of the UPCM community bears with it the responsibility to serve higher entities such as the Student Council. Thus to improve the state of the MSC, it is incumbent upon the studentry to become actively involved in its affairs and activities, be it by planning of events, logistics, physical volunteerism or financial support. If we constantly criticize the College administration and MSC for their shortcomings, maybe we too should realize that we may be part of the problem that we ourselves have pointed out, but that we can also collectively be part of the solution.